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British pioneer of rapid, lab-free COVID-19 testing wins UK engineering award

06 July 2021

DnaNudge has been named as the winner of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2021 MacRobert Award.

The London start-up has been honoured for the development of its consumer genetics technology, pivoting and adapting the technology to deliver a rapid, lab-free RT-PCR COVID-19 test to NHS hospitals. 

In August 2020, the UK government placed a major order with DnaNudge to supply the Department of Health and Social Care with CovidNudge test kits for use in NHS hospitals across the UK. Now also in use in care homes and supporting the return of the arts sector, the test can accurately detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus from saliva samples on-site in just over an hour – eliminating the need for a laboratory. 

The latest arts institution to benefit from DnaNudge’s COVID-19 testing services is the Royal Opera House – home of The Royal Ballet and one of the world’s greatest opera companies. DnaNudge is delivering regular pool testing on-site to performers and staff at the iconic venue in Covent Garden, to support the Royal Opera House’s 2021/22 programme of live music, dance and theatre events – its first full season since 2019. The Royal Opera House joins the London Symphony Orchestra, Glyndebourne Festival and other leading arts and cultural organisations that are using DnaNudge’s rapid, lab-free RT-PCR test to support the safe re-opening of the UK’s cultural sector as the UK’s lockdown restrictions begin to be lifted.

Based in central London at the Imperial College London Translation and Innovation Hub in White City, DnaNudge was created by biomedical engineer Regius Professor Chris Toumazou and geneticist Dr Maria Karvela. 

The DnaNudge winning team includes:

• Professor Christofer Toumazou FREng FRS, CEO
• Dr Maria Karvela, CSO
• Dr Caroline Golden, Clinical Research Manager
• Josef Cicinski, UK Retail Store Manager
• David West, COO

Professor Chris Toumazou FREng FRS, Co-Founder & CEO, DnaNudge said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be named the winner of the 2021 MacRobert Award, joining the ranks of some of the UK’s most innovative and world-changing engineers. The past year has been challenging for all, but the determination and commitment of the entire DnaNudge team to get behind our health service and deliver a truly life-saving solution has been incredible. We look forward to expanding the capabilities of our transformative genetic testing platform to address other major global health challenges, including in the area of oncology and STDs. This is just the beginning of our technology’s capabilities.”

Managing lifestyles on your wrist

The CovidNudge rapid test technology was adapted in record time from DnaNudge’s existing consumer DNA testing service, developed to address nutrition and lifestyle-influenced health conditions affecting people across the world, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes. 

DnaNudge has created the world’s first service to use consumers’ own DNA plus lifestyle factors to ‘nudge’ people towards healthier and more personalised choices while shopping. The DnaNudge Nutrition service analyses and maps users’ genetic profile to key nutrition-related health traits such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol – enabling customers to be guided by their DNA towards healthier eating.

DnaNudge’s Lab-in-Cartridge innovation allows consumers to provide a simple cheek swab in-store or posted from home. In just over an hour, DnaNudge’s NudgeBox portable analyser maps the user’s genetic profile to key nutrition-related health traits. Using the wrist-worn DnaBand – which also measures sitting time – or using the DnaNudge mobile app, people are then able to scan food products sold in UK supermarkets to find out whether the nutritional contents are a good match for their individual biology, effectively shopping with your DNA and lifestyle. 

The MacRobert Award judges commented on the simplicity and usability of the DnaNudge technology and its potential to make a significant difference to the health and wellbeing of the nation moving forward. 

Professor Sir Richard Friend FREng FRS, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award judging panel, said: "DnaNudge is an excellent example of how the UK engineering community adapted to be at the forefront of the global efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Its role in supporting the government with its testing capabilities will have gone a long way to helping to understand and contain the virus. Looking towards the future, this technology knows no limits, helping consumers to take control of their health and lifestyle and make informed dietary decisions, with positive long-term implications.

“The MacRobert Award has recognised many fundamental engineering advances, such as the CT scanner, which have truly changed the medical world. I am delighted that DnaNudge joins this group, and I look forward to seeing DnaNudge’s technology evolve in years to come, since widespread take-up of this technology will help to build a healthier nation, empowering people to take a proactive role in managing their lifestyle and future health.”

Founded in 1969, the MacRobert Award is overseen by the Royal Academy of Engineering and is the UK’s longest running engineering prize. It endorses engineering achievements that demonstrate outstanding innovation, tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success. DnaNudge will receive the signature MacRobert Award gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize, joining the pioneers behind innovations such as the Harrier Jump Jet, the Raspberry Pi micro-computer and the CT scanner.

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